An Unconventional Career Can Help You Find Your Passion

About Raymond Magno: I’m just a blue-collar family man operating a bio hazard cleaning business. I grew up in a farming community in Maine, worked as a radioman in the Coast Guard and then as commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska before falling in love with my wife. We got married, moved to Los Angeles, had a little baby boy. Along the way I found my passion where I never intended to look, and success was waiting for me to open the door.

As a residential house cleaner who found his specialty in cleaning crime scenes and unattended deaths, it wasn’t something that I set out to do in life. In fact, it was probably the furthest from my mind as a career. After retiring from the Coast Guard, for several years I worked as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska. But as much as I loved being out in the ocean and running my own business, I was barely getting by. At a $1 a pound from the fish processor, there was hardly anything left after paying for all the expenses.

Once I got married I had to come to terms with the sobering truth that passion and ability have nothing to do with each other. Just because you are passionate does not mean you are good at doing it.

Imagining that dream job and visualizing doing it isn’t the same thing as actually doing it for a living. What if focusing on a dream actually was keeping me from delving into exploring other fields that I may not have ever considered?

Exploring careers that I considered out of my “wheelhouse” gave me an opportunity to develop a passion for something I had never previously considered – cleaning up blood and body fluids after a death.

For example, I used to see the janitor at one of my jobs mopping up or emptying wastebaskets every day, day in and day out. I often thought to myself how menial the task was and how he must hate what he does for a living. Then one day as I was approaching one of the all-glass entry doors that he was busy cleaning, I thought that a positive comment thrown his way might make him feel better about what he does.

So, I said, “I’ll make sure not to put my hands anywhere but on the door handle!” Thinking his response might be a grateful “thank you” or “I appreciate it.” Instead, his response was, “That’s okay. It’s job security.”

He said it so quickly and with such confidence that I realized that I had misread this man and his situation all this time. He didn’t hate his job. He loved that it gave him an opportunity to work each and every day. He took pride in keeping the building under his care clean and polished. Clearly he had developed a passion for work that people like me had viewed as menial and mindless.

Don’t Follow the Crowd

It’s tempting to follow friends or the career trends of the moment into the “stable and secure careers.” This is in no way a practical way to begin a career. You will be competing with hundreds of others within the same field and the same basic skill set for the same jobs. Talk about setting yourself up to fail.

Instead, research where the financial opportunities lie instead of where your passions are and follow that road. Explore careers that you never even considered, in industries where employers are struggling to find qualified applicants to fill dozens of positions.

What is the Skills Gap?

According to labor statistics there are nearly six million jobs available that virtually no one has any training in doing. This is referred to as “the skills gap.”

You could only pursue careers that you have a great passion for and ignore pursuing any other opportunities that are presented to you. This might mean going into the family business because it’s always “been the plan.” But what if you have don’t have the knack for construction or optometry or being a lawyer or a doctor like your grandfather, your mother, or your father does?

Or maybe you saw something in a movie or on television as a child and it intrigued you and you always told yourself you were going to pursue it someday no matter what. Stubbornly and even blindly adhering to personal vows or family traditions for the sake of not rocking your personal boat or anyone else’s is not the way to find a career path in life. It sets you up to fail in so many ways.

When you close your mind to serendipitous opportunities, you’re ignoring the skills gap.

Being Persistent about Following a Dream Leads to Nowhere…Just a Bit Faster

According to developmental psychologists, a common human characteristic is what is called the self-determination theory. This means that most of us can develop, over time, a love of doing something just by virtue of the amount of time that we are doing it. Consistent accomplishment at the same tasks gives us three things from a psychological perspective:

A Feeling of Autonomy: This means we become confident at what we do and in turn find that it has a purpose.

Competency: Actually developing a belief that you are not only doing something important but that you are good at what you do.

Relation to Others: As we work specific tasks and develop competency and autonomy, we become connected to those around us in a more positive manner.

In no way does this theory espouse a need to have a passion in the task before starting it. It simply states that you’ll gain a sense of fulfillment as you develop skills and reach goals within your line of work… any work. It is not what you do that is important but how you do it.

When I kept this theory in mind, I realized that, like the janitor where I used to work, it was skills that were my path to a career and a “true calling” and not what I was passionate about doing. I knew that once I figured out what I should pursue, then as my skills developed through practice within that field, then so would my “practical passion” for it.

So Then What?

Well, then I realized I had to define what works really was to me in a very real sense of the word and not as just pursuing my one and only dream job. So, I sat down at my computer, brought up a blank Word document and thought for a minute about what meaningful work really meant.

I wrote down anything and everything that came to me. Then, I asked myself another couple of questions:

1. What are my long-term goals in life? and

2. How will I determine if I have actually led a productive and meaningful life?

Then, I took what I wrote and I analyzed it. I looked at how my idea of what meaningful work is was not in line with what I want to accomplish in life. More importantly, I saw that what I defined as meaningful work had nothing to do with what I wanted to actually accomplish at all.

I then felt a sudden urgency to start exploring all kinds of career ideas that were off the beaten path. I felt almost instantaneously like I was completely missing out on unique opportunities that would help me to accomplish my goals.

I can’t lie that it was also a scary feeling, but it was one that gave me a new found sense of myself and who I could become, so it was exciting all at the same time.

What it did for me was it forced me to search for something more than just following an abstract passion in something. It offered me a sense of reality about my prospects in life that I had never had before.

Following the Career Mystery Machine

So, I started researching in places that I had never before considered, and I followed my curiosity. It led me to a field that I knew existed but did not know one thing about. It was not even on my radar to pursue bio hazard cleaning, but it in a way found me.

At first, it felt strange to tell people that I was considering this, but after a while as I practiced the skills I was learning, the self-determination theory started to surface. As I felt more and more competent with my job, and as customers shared their gratitude for my help during this difficult time in their life, I learned to love my career in a real sense of the word.

Featured image by Clark Young

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